Travel cards 2019: 5x rewards, lounges & Global Entry | finder.com

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Choose the perfect plastic travel companion.

If you love to travel, there’s a credit card that’ll take you around the world. Travel cards can get you deals on flights, TSA precheck and even entry to premium airport lounges. However, watch out for high annual fees.

Find the right travel credit card

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Compare cards with travel rewards

Updated February 21st, 2019
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual Fee
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
2x points on travel and dining. 1x points on all other purchases
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit. 1x points on all other purchases
$450
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months
2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on direct purchases within the Hilton Honors portfolio. 5x points at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations. 3x points on all other purchases
$0
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
35,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on airfare booked directly with airlines; 4x points at US restaurants; 4x points at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 per year in purchases (then 1x points)
$250
35,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months Rates & Fees

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The 7 best travel credit cards

The world of travel credit cards is ultra-competitive. That’s good news for you, with so many top-notch products to choose from.

Here are the seven best travel cards on the market:

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Best for luxury travel: The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5x Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn more.
  • $200 airline fee credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms apply.
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The Platinum Card® from American Express is the card of choice if you like to travel in style. It offers a market-leading rewards rate on eligible flights and hotels, so it’s designed for the frequent traveler.

Best for flexible rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3x points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3x points on dining at restaurants and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
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Chase Ultimate Rewards is a powerhouse redemption hub, making this the go-to product for flexible rewards. You can trade your points for travel, gift cards, cash back, experiences and Amazon purchases.

Best for flat-rate rewards: Venture® from Capital One®

Venture® from Capital One®

  • $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Visa Signature benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees
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This card runs neck and neck with the excellent Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®. It’s hard to go wrong with either one with great rewards on all purchases.

Capital One offers two unique perks that set it apart: 10x miles on eligible Hotels.com bookings and a fee credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.


Best for hotels: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

  • Generous welcome offer
  • Earn points on travel purchases
  • Annual SPG and Marriott Rewards statement credit and Free Night Award
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit
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Promoted
This product fares very well against its hotel-card competition. It’s not cheap, but it offers excellent perks like travel credits, a reward night each year, a fee credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.

Best for luxury travel perks with no annual fee: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

  • 0% APR promo balance transfer rate for 12 months with 3% balance transfer fee now through March 31, 2019. After that, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be 12.99% to 17.99%. APR will vary with the market based on prime rate. Subject to credit approval.
  • Earn 25,000 bonus points by spending $2,500 in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • Earn 4x points on travel purchases through the PenFed Honors Advantage program. Earn 3x points on travel purchases for all other card holders.
  • Earn 1.5x points on all other purchases unrelated to travel.
  • $100 annual air travel credit
  • $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck benefit every 5 years
  • No caps or limits on rewards. No annual or foreign transaction fees.
  • Chip enabled for added security.
  • Variable rate as low as 12.99% APR. Rate and offers current as of February 1, 2019 and are subject to change.
  • Federally insured by NCUA.
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Promoted
It’s a wonder that PenFed doesn’t charge an annual fee for this card. You’ll find a good signup bonus, an excellent rewards rate on travel and more.

Best for rewards with no annual fee: Uber Visa Card

If you’re always on the move, the Uber Visa Card is for you. It’s a strong card for travel, with accelerated cash back on hotel, airfare and dining purchases. That’s the perfect combination for a frequent traveler.

Best for a welcome offer with no annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

  • Accelerated rewards on gas, dining and travel
  • Rewards on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Apple Music
  • No annual fee
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Promoted
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is a top-notch travel card, with an excellent rewards rate on eligible travel, dining and other categories. For a no-annual-fee card, it also has a stellar welcome offer.
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What is a travel credit card?

A travel credit card offers higher rewards for travel purchases — typically points or miles, but sometimes cash back. It usually comes with no foreign transaction fees and travel benefits.

Points or miles can typically be redeemed for rewards such as hotel stays, airfare, car rentals and statement credit.

Travel cards offer a variety of perks, and you get what you pay for: No-annual-fee cards tend to offer fewer high-class benefits than annual-fee products.

Here are a few travel benefits you might find with a travel card …

  • Airport lounge access.
  • Fee credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.
  • Travel credits that cover your expenses for eligible purchases.
  • Airline perks like priority boarding and complimentary checked baggage.
  • Hotel perks like spending credits and room upgrades.
  • Hotel or airline loyalty program status upgrades.
  • Travel coverage: trip cancellation insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement and more.
  • Travel concierge service.

The 3 types of travel credit cards

  • Flexible-currency credit card. Some cards offer rewards to be redeemed at select hotels or airlines. Flexible-currency cards let you spend on travel of your choice.
  • Airline credit card. This type of card is affiliated with a specific airline. You’ll earn elevated rewards when you spend with the co-branded company, and you can typically redeem your rewards only through the airline or its partners. You’ll usually receive airline-specific perks that you won’t find with other cards, such as priority boarding and complimentary checked luggage. If you don’t want to be tied to a certain airline, a flexible-currency card might be a better choice.
  • Hotel credit card. This type of card is co-branded with a specific hotel chain. You’ll earn elevated rewards when you spend with the chain, and you can usually redeem them through the affiliated company or its partners. Typically, you’ll find hotel-specific benefits such as loyalty-program upgrades and free-night awards. Like with airline credit cards, pick a hotel credit card if you stay frequently with a particular chain. Otherwise, consider a flexible-reward card.

Cash back, points or miles: What type of rewards card is best for me?

Compare popular airline credit cards

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • Welcome offer: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of your account opening.
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95.
  • Miles: 2 miles per $1 on Delta purchases, 1 mile per $1 on other eligible purchases.
Benefits
  • Priority boarding.
  • First checked bag free.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

United℠ Explorer Card

  • Intro offer: Get 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months.
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
  • Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all ticket purchases, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
Benefits
  • Priority boarding.
  • One free checked bag.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • Intro offer: Get 40,000 miles and a companion pass after you spend your first $1,000 on purchases within 3 months of opening your account.
  • Annual fee: $99
  • Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all southwest purchases and at participating hotels and car rental agencies, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
Benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Companion pass status after earning 110,000 points or completing 100 one-way flights (companion pass status allows you to bring a guest on your Southwest flight at no additional charge).

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • Intro offer: Get 50,000 miles after you spend your first $2,500 within 3 months of opening your account.
  • Annual fee: $99 (waived for the first year)
  • Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

Benefits

  • One free checked bag for you and up to four other people on your reservation.
  • Priority boarding.
  • Discounts on in-flight food and beverages.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

  • Intro offer: Get 50,000 Avios (British Airways club currency) after you spend your first $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of opening your account. Earn an additional 25,000 Avios when you spend $10,000 and another 25,000 when you spend $20,000 in the first year, for a total possibility of 100,000 Avios.
  • Annual fee: $95.
  • Avios: 3 avios per $1 on all British Airlines purchases, 1 avios per $1 on all other purchases.
Benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees,
  • Travel Together Ticket after spending $30,000 in one year (a Travel Together Ticket allows you to bring a guest on your British Airways flight at no additional charge).
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Ask the experts

Andy Shuman
Andy Shuman
lazytravelers.net
Travel and Personal Finance

How do you get the most rewards out of a cashback credit card?

Amy and Tim profile picture
Tim and Amy Rutherford
gowithless.com
Award Travel Professionals

Is there anything you should avoid when choosing a cashback card?

Eric Rosenberg
Eric Rosenberg
personalprofitability.com
Personal Finance Expert

Should I get a cashback card with tiered rewards or a flat rate for all purchases?

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How to choose a travel credit card

  1. Think about whether you want to pay an annual fee.
    This is an easy starting point when choosing between travel cards. Annual-fee cards tend to have better signup bonuses and more features — but you might not like paying for them. An annual fee doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, but it can help you narrow your options.
  2. Consider where you spend the most money.
    Round up your expenses and see which categories you spend the most money in. Common categories include travel, dining, groceries and gas. If you find yourself spending heavily in certain categories, look for cards that offer elevated rewards for those categories. For more evenly distributed buying, you might get more out of a flat-rate rewards card.
  3. Consider which travel perks you want.
    You’ll usually find the most perks with hotel and airline cards, as well as premium cards with high annual fees. Consider which benefits you can and can’t live without — this will help you narrow your choices further.

By following these steps, you should have a much better idea of what type of travel card you’re looking for.

Find the right travel credit card

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Still deciding? Here are additional factors to compare

  • Airline or hotel loyalty.
    If you spend heavily with a certain airline or hotel chain, consider a co-branded card. Otherwise, pick a flexible-rewards card so you can earn rewards regardless of which airline or hotel you spend with.
  • Signup bonus.
    Many travel cards offer a signup bonus to new cardholders who spend a certain amount on purchases within the first few months. An airline-card bonus may offer enough rewards for a flight. Hotel-card bonuses can potentially give you reward nights.
  • Foreign transaction fees.
    Many credit cards charge a fee when you make purchases in currency other than US dollars — typically 3% of the transaction. These fees apply whether you’re traveling overseas or just using an online store based outside the US. To avoid them, look for a credit card with 0% foreign transaction fees.
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Sign up carefully

Beyond the welcome offer itself, consider whether you can meet the spending requirement to earn the bonus. Don’t get in over your head. Choose a credit card only if you currently spend enough money each month to meet the requirement.

How to maximize your travel rewards

Once you’ve been approved for the travel card of your choice, use these tips to maximize your rewards.

  • 1. Earn the signup bonus.
    If you want more rewards, consider a card that offers a signup bonus. Then, tailor your spending so you earn the bonus. That may mean using the card for everything you possibly can during the bonus qualifying period.
  • 2. Maximize your reward earnings.
  • 3. Get the highest value for your rewards.
    The credit card industry generally values a point or mile at one cent apiece, but your rewards might be worth more or less depending on what you redeem them for. To see whether you’re getting a good deal on reward redemptions, do some quick math in your card’s rewards center. Divide the value of the redemption by how many points or miles you must spend. For example:
  • If you want a $25 gift card and it costs 2,500 points to get it, your points are worth $25/2,500 = 1 cent each.
  • But if the same gift card costs 3,000 points, your points are worth $25/3,000 = 0.8 cents each.

The higher redemption rate you can get on your rewards, the better.

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Who should use a travel credit card?

While earning travel rewards appeals to those with a bit of wanderlust, a travel credit card isn’t for everyone. Consider a travel product if:

  • You have good to excellent credit.
    Credit card issuers give the best cards those with a history of paying their bills on time and managing debt responsibly. If you don’t have a great credit score, work on improving your credit before you apply for a travel card.
  • You pay your balance in full each month.
    As with any rewards product, paying your balance in full is the best way to get the full benefit of your travel card. This is especially the case if the card has an annual fee. Carrying a balance means accruing interest that can offset your rewards.
  • You frequent one airline or hotel chain.
    Airline and hotel cards can heavily reward you if you’re a loyal customer. Hotel cards in particular usually offer much better rewards than you’d earn with general travel cards.
  • You have the patience to get the most value out of your rewards.
    With travel cards, you won’t know the true value of your points or miles until you redeem them. To get maximum value from them, you’ll need to crunch the numbers yourself or do some research into reward values.
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Bottom line

If you consider yourself a jet-setter, you could get a lot from a travel card. There are a variety of options for whatever you’re looking for.

Before you start your search, consider whether you want to pay an annual fee, what you typically spend on and which travel benefits you’re looking for. Take your time to compare different products, and you’ll likely find a card that’s perfect for you.

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